In Praise of CFO's

by katiedelp on

By Bob Lupton Chief financial officer (CFO) may well be the most responsible (and stressful) position in any organization. With discerning fingers on the financial pulse of the operation, this key person remains ever vigilant for trends that may impact future stability. When cash flow is tight, it’s the CFO who must make the hard decisions about what bills to pay and in what order, and when the coffers are empty, answer to angry creditors or unsympathetic IRS agents or an irritated boss. He (or she) receives very little praise for producing accurate financial reports but draws withering criticism when the numbers look bad. It’s a thankless job even though most leaders know that competent financial management is essential to the success of any enterprise. A CFO may be valued but seldom praised.

This is why I have sympathy for Judas Iscariot, CFO of the Jesus Campaign. He has drawn a lot of criticism over the years for his ill-conceived decision to “out” Jesus, but I can’t help wondering if his motives were at least partially positive. Think how stressful it must have been to attempt to manage the campaign finances of a charismatic leader whose response to responsible planning was “Aw, don’t worry about it…tomorrow will take care of itself…have faith…birds don’t have savings accounts, do they?” Can you imagine how a responsible treasurer would feel when taxes were due, their account empty, and then overhear the leader tell his staff to “go fishing” and look for the tax money in a fish’s mouth?! Oh yes, the Master was certainly a miracle worker par excellence, but there is a fine line between faith and foolhardy. Is there no place in this Kingdom for budgeting and saving?

And then there was the issue of the shameful waste the Master condoned – no, affirmed – allowing enraptured women to pour out extravagantly expensive perfume, on his feet no less. And it happened more than once! It was probably worth a good year’s wages. Nothing upsets a CFO more than irresponsible misappropriation of resources, especially when money is tight. After three years of near-futile effort to keep campaign books in some semblance of order, Judas had to be very frustrated. And it wasn’t getting any easier. Insiders were beginning to question the way he was handling the money. And the Master seemed not a bit closer to publicly asserting his divinely ordained messiah-ship. In fact, public opinion appeared to be turning against him. Something had to give.

Sometimes it takes someone on the inside, someone who knows the leader well – his unique strengths as well as his weak spots – to serve as the catalyst to get things moving, particularly when they are getting a bit bogged down. Sometimes the right nudge can spur needed movement. Perhaps a confrontation with the authorities would propel the campaign onto center stage. That might be exactly what the Master was waiting for. At some point He would have to demonstrate His heavenly power and publicly declare that He was indeed the One sent from above. If He was to take the throne as the long awaited Messiah of Israel, a major power-shift would have to occur. A resourceful, behind-the-scenes CFO might be just the one to precipitate this action. And generate some income in the process.

But the plan went wrong, badly wrong. The Master did not summon His heavenly power. No angels, no dramatic miracles, not even a verbal pushback. He simply extended his wrists and accepted the ropes. His loyal friends immediately scattered and ran. The strategy, instead of being a catalyst to ignite the Messiah campaign, became its ruin. And there was no way to undo it.

Judas would never forgive himself. Nor would anyone else. Ever.

It makes me stop and think. Might Judas’ tragic end have been different if Peter had said to him “I screwed up too!”? Or if the other disciples had admitted to him that they too had it all wrong. CFO’s have feelings too, you know. I must remember this. So before I criticize my treasurer for being too anal, too controlling, too linear, I need to remember the emotional weight he or she may be carrying. Before I wage into a heated battle of wills over cutting a check that I’m “sure” will be covered by an anticipated donation, before I bicker over burying my questionable expenditure in an approved line-item, I need to remind myself that a good accountant is highly conscientious, not simply head-strong or risk-averse. Before I disparage the keeper of my books as a small minded bean-counter, I need to remember that a little affirmation goes a long way with someone whose work is often challenged but seldom praised. I wonder if anyone ever expressed appreciation to Judas for his work.

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